I'm guessing this is how you post a post... so here goes!
I read the first post I saw on @budnitz 's page, and it resonated with me so very deeply and so very unexpectedly. It was a post about the ever increasing specialization these days - and I've observed it among everyone I meet in college. Particularly the "premed" students groomed from highschool, whose every extracurricular is carefully chosen to bolster their med school applications.
I always felt like an outcast - of course, I'm fascinated by physiology and endocrinology especially. But I've also spent the majority of my life with horses, through which I've gained a range of interests - from leatherworking to kinesiology to turfgrass science to tree identification. Because I have some weird variety of synesthesia I absolutely failed at basic arithmetic, and because our school system is a load of crock & I was never allowed to glimpse aspects of math and physics that I actually have a knack for, from the beginning I became absolutely obsessed with literature. Kids my age were ... I actually have no idea what they were doing, but I was reading Charles Dickens in third grade. I also painted extensively. Mostly horses, in surreal over-vivid colors.
I could recite whole swaths of leaves of grass without even trying, because my emotional connection with the words seared them into my brain. I spent one boring winter in high school recording myself performing a one man show of various shakespeare plays, in which I spoke every line of every character. I spent lunch periods forgoing lunch to hang out in woodshop, making little projects out of scrap. Not all of them were "functional." I once cut the silhouette of an owl out with the jigsaw, and used the drill press to "fill it in," pointillism style. I am always mixing up my interests. When everyone is studying organic chemistry I slip into making poems from it, and when everyone is using equipment for making cabinetry I see an opportunity to "draw" with it.
My "easy A" classes were victorian and 17th century poetry in college, but I took agriculture classes too. Everyone was myopically scheduling their four years of classes right out of the starting gate. I was making friends with professors outside my department and adventuring into classes that had absolutely no "connection" to my "major" - other than that I felt it compelling knowledge.
As much as I enjoy the facts themselves, I'm becoming a bit obsessed by the stories behind them. I'm reading up on the actual lives and experiences of those names you hear attached to formulas and theorems, but never see the faces of. Obviously, this is considered a meaningless waste by everyone interested in plunging ahead, with no seconds to spare. But I find it absolutely critical - it gives perspective for the present, not to mention true appreciation of those passed. And another trend I've observed is not only that of specialization, but of rash action. The researcher who jumps to conclusions, calling a correlation, causation, springs a whole pharmaceutical revolution which rakes in billions, despite being completely unfounded and in the end, not only ineffectual but hazardous. The researcher who publishes results which are equivocal and claims a better understanding is absolutely needed, and there must be variables we have not yet identified, is lost to oblivion. The latter's path may have led to a worthy investigation and true progress; but he will barely pay his bills.
I am completely against this. There are so many variables we haven't identified, so many relationships we are struggling to piece together. We need honest and earnest explorers to question and question and question until some possible mechanism may be proposed, and then we need stubborn and idealistic people to test and test and test every link of that chain to see if it's right. And in the job of making unexpected connections, there is no one better suited than one with many different interests. We need to think outside the box, to use inspiration from every possible corner, and to always keep an open mind. Highly specialized people may unearth increasingly specialized technical information, but unless it can be understood as part of a greater picture, how can it be useful? Both are needed - but we aren't developing these explorers, these connection-makers, these questioners. We're condemning them.
Proteomics would be impossible without the aid of ribbon diagrams to visualize the greater structures of these peptide chains, but do you know why we have them? A researcher was confounded by trying to interpret the results of x-ray diffraction, until his artist wife visualized them as twisting ribbons. It bears repeating: all the specialized, technical training in the world is not enough. New ideas come from new places. Places outside the realm of a specialized training.